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The media - strategic

Kosovo Solution Series # 2


PressInfo # 210

 March 18, 2005


Aleksandar Mitic, TFF Associate & Jan Oberg, TFF director


Relevant background links for this series here.

The pro-Albanian lobby program in Brussels, Washington, New York and other Western capitals has been up and running for decades now. An advocacy campaign pushing for the independence of Kosovo as the only alternative to bloody conflict and instability has been the primary theme of this campaign, fought through well-established consultants, PR groups, think-tank lobbyists, contacts with key policymakers and the media.

The fight for the agenda-setting and the context of the Kosovo issue has been set by Albanian lobbyists during Tito's communist Yugoslavia - well before anyone ever heard of a man called Slobodan Milosevic. The quest for the independence of Kosovo has been a long and strategic policy of the Albanian community in Kosovo and abroad at a time when Serb politicians in Belgrade and in Pristina were still loyal to a "dream" of a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia and unable to formulate a sustainable PR counter-attack against Albanian nationalist/separatist demands.

This unbalance between Belgrade and the Kosovo Albanians (but also later Croats and Bosnian Muslims) in the means put into PR advocacy campaigns and lobbying efforts has led to a one-sided media war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unable and perhaps uninterested to seek allies and promotion in Western capitals, the official Belgrade lost the media war for the context of the future Yugoslav successor wars even before the first bullet was ever shot: the Serb demands were sidelined and they were portrayed from the outset in a negative context. Serb causes, views and victims became "unworthy" in the eyes of key Western political and media factors.

Serb frustration with Western analysts and media led to a PR self-isolation, even autism in certain periods of the 1990s, thus allowing a vicious circle to develop in which international media bias put more oil on the fire than contributed to a just and long-lasting solution to conflict. No matter how complex the conflict was, no matter the fact that crimes were committed on all sides and a fierce war was fought also by the Kosovo Liberation Army in which atrocities could hardly be avoided, the Kosovo Albanians were simply perceived as only "good guys", the Serbs as only "bad".

With the end of the NATO 1999 bombings and the retreat of the Yugoslav army from Kosovo, the Serb capacity to "cause damage" disappeared. The remaining, unarmed Kosovo Serb population became protected by NATO troops and a victim of an orchestrated campaign of ethnic cleansing: killings of Serb peasants in the fields, shootings of Serb children, kidnappings of Serb workers, bombings of Serb houses, terrorist attacks against Serb buses, forceful takeover of Serb apartments, destruction of Serb monasteries and graveyards.

Observers, analysts, some international staff and media promoted the view that this was of course bad but it was a) not as bad as the atrocities committed by the Serb side, b) the international community should coach the Albanian leaders who all came from the killing fields and build confidence with them, and c) turn a blind eye as it was an understandable, however quite deplorable, reaction to what had been done to them by Belgrade.

Still again, and despite a change of regime in Belgrade with the arrival of reformists in power in 2000, the substance of the Western media approach to the situation in Kosovo remained unchanged:

1) Stories about the violence against the remaining 100,000 Serbs and human interest stories about their fate in Kosovo remained rare. The same occurred with the situation of the more than 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians who were expelled towards central Serbia and could not return to their homes.

2) Rather, more place was given to bureaucratic, public relations-optimistic statements offered by UN administrators about the "constant progress" in the province.

3) Albanian violence was justified through the formulation called "revenge attacks".

4) Ethnic persecution became "inter-ethnic conflict".

5) The division of the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica - the last remaining urban area were Serbs still live in Kosovo - was seen as the key obstacle to stability instead of the ever-lasting campaign of anti-Serb violence throughout the rest of the province.

6) The orchestrated campaign of "ethnic cleansing", as NATO Admiral Gregory Johnson called the three days of anti-Serb violence in March 2004, became ultimately seen as a result of "Albanian frustration with the lack of progress towards independence".

7) There was a clear failure to explain who was behind the anti-Serb attacks. If the international community accepts that there is an orchestrated campaign of violence implicating 52,000 perpetrators/participants, there must be organizers? Who are they, the Western media never asked.

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8) There was a lack of explanation of problems in the Albanian society - from the question of organized crime, drug trafficking to the questions of ethnic intolerance. The capacity of the Kosovo Albanian political and paramilitary circles to export violence into neighbouring southern Serbia and Macedonia was rarely examined.

9) The failures of international administrators and peacekeepers in Kosovo were only scarcely analyzed by the academic community and mainstream media.

10) The drawing of the line and the eternal question: "Is this what we fought for?" became practically invisible in most of the Western media reports.

Most of these media spins on the reality of Kosovo were once again indications of a planned and effective advocacy PR campaign by pro-Albanian lobbyists. Western allies who had advocated bombings as the means to create a solution and had invested so much prestige and money in the international missions in Kosovo saw it in their interest that a) this general image was continued and b) that, by and large, the media attention to Kosovo reduced steadily over time. And other issues and hotspots, be it September 11, 2001, other bombings and the war on terror attracted the media's attention.

Still, the Albanian lobby suffered a blow with the outcome of the US presidential elections: Wesley Clark lost the Democratic nomination race, Richard Holbrooke's bid to become Secretary of State in the John Kerry administration failed, the hopes of George Soros and the "Albright group" to become the key ideologists of the reborn Clinton-era policy slant towards the Balkans also miserably vanished.

On the other side, the problem remained: Belgrade does not have an effective PR strategy to counteract this impressively well-organized, well-oiled and paid pro-Albanian lobby campaign, nor does it follow a pro-active media approach which could put its objective demands on the table.

Even Belgrade analysts do not agree on whether Serbia has a lobby in Washington and Brussels, let alone whether it is effective. Belgrade is thus left behind again in a disproportionate media battle. Failing to hear Belgrade's views in the media and among think-tanks and analysts could however lead to a solution that is likely to cause frustration, failure and long-term instability in the region.

It goes without saying that a central underlying problem is that Belgrade hitherto has lacked a unified concept of the future of Kosovo and seems to have little that indicates that it has a pro-active negotiation strategy on which to base such a media policy. Only a few days ago it was announced that such a unified strategy has now been developed; at the time of writing it is not known what its main elements are.


The TFF Kosovo Solution Series

# 1
Why the solution in Kosovo matters to the world

# 2
The media - strategic considerations

# 3
The main preconditions for a sustainable solution to the Kosovo conflict

# 4
The situation as seen from Serbia

# 5
The arguments for quick and total independence are not credible

# 6
What must be Belgrade's minimum conditions and its media strategy

# 7
Nations and states, sovereignty and self-determination

# 8
Positive scenarios: Turn to the future, look at the broader perspectives

# 9
Many thinkable models for future Kosovo

# 10
Summary: From "Only one solution" towards democracy and peace


Relevant background links for this series.



Read also

Jake Lynch, Reporting the World
Reporting Kosovo - violence now proves the stories missed in 1999 were the most important

TFF PressInfo 43, 1999
Kosovo/a - Half Truths About Demography and Ethnic Cleansing



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